for new life & a new lens.

when i think back on my childhood, she was famously a part of it.
she is two years older than me, and about a foot taller. always the head of her class, i don’t blame her for never wanting to translate much of anything to layman’s terms for me to understand.

her name is Beth, & she seemed to love life.

she loved to help her mom with anything, help plan events and outings, and always had a hilarious, witty comment or remark to whatever topic was being discussed. unlike some sarcasm, hers was a true gift that kept on giving.

she liked shenanigans, & probably could’ve figured out the cure to AIDS, all while listening to her dad and brother jam on the banjo & harmonica in their wood paneled basement in Ulysses, Kansas.

she had the thickest, golden blonde hair that she’d wash up-side-down in the kitchen sink, and a smile that could light up a room. she was beautiful, but unassuming about it.

i have a favorite photograph of us: it’s from Easter, circa 1990. she was probably six, and so I was probably four, and we were rocking our matching, heavily floral white dresses like champs; oh, were they something to behold. i swear, you could only get away with such dresses in that era. her mom, my sweet aunt Tricia, had proudly sewn them. {bless.her.heart.}

our mothers, sisters and also about two years apart in age, stood behind us with their hands on our shoulders, beaming proudly toward the photographer. we stood before my grandma’s house, a butter yellow, ranch-style gem that has anchored Avalon street for the last 63 years. that’s the house that grew them-up, the home they were proud to bring their daughters back to for any holiday or family gathering. i was missing a few teeth, which made for a cheesy, adorable grin, and i look back on my short, blonde hair and wonder how i pulled off such a “do” with my round face, which consisted of about 90% cheek.

i loved those days, simpler and brighter, filled with mischievous fun.

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since that photo was taken, life happened.
Beth and her family moved back out to majestic Wyoming, and we grew up and apart.

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i remember the last time we were together, though.  they were back in my hometown sometime during my adolescent years for Grandma’s birthday, having driven their old Chevy suburban all the way here from Rawlins. she & her brother Thomas met my lousy high school boyfriend, who had to rescue us in the early hours of morning from my broken down Jeep, which i managed to pull onto the shoulder as it spewed oil all over 50 highway outside of Lee’s Summit. the whole time, she was laughing and remarking from the back seat. i think her take on the situation kept me smiling, or at least sane.

since that incident filled with hilarity, life kept happening.
we tried to maintain a hearty pen-pal relationship, but inevitably, the letters stopped being sent from both ends.

Beth started taking some college classes, and moved around a bit for jobs and a boyfriend.
she seemed settled and fulfilled.

then, a hard blow.
her sweet mama, my aunt Tricia, passed away from cancer, only months after our sweet Gram Ellie had also passed.
i think it finally became clear to Beth and me that life, beautiful as it often is, can also be a serious, hellacious bitch.

i should’ve reached out more than i did. i should’ve done a lot of things differently.
i’ve always struggled to articulate the words that so easily fall onto a page, so instead of trying, i carried on with my own life events and new career in the women’s fashion industry post college graduation. instead of saving my money to make the trek out to Wyoming, i spent it mostly on apparel to look the part in the role i was trying so desperately to play.

i didn’t forget, but i didn’t quite remember, either.
i just kept moving.

since then, i wish i could say with more certainty that her life was full of adventure and amazing, deep relationships that left her fulfilled and pointed toward the Father.

but i’m just not sure.

Beth struggled in ways i’m still not fully aware of.
her struggles were different than my own, and i often felt ill-equipped to offer guidance or support.
instead, i’d pray, and hope she knew of my love from afar.

as i prepared to leave for The World Race, she and her dad were some of my faithful supporters.
i still remember seeing their names in my support account next to the amount they’d pledged to give.
i beamed, but remember feeling unworthy and yet so loved by their generosity.
who was i to receive when i’d given so little?

she taught me so much about Grace, & i’m not even sure she knew it.

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yesterday would’ve been our Gram Ellie’s 94th birthday. i still have fond memories of Beth & i laughing hysterically, doubled-over, holding our stomachs, at some of the things Ellie would say; the way she’d turn the TV volume up to unspeakable decibels when a baseball game was on, and we’d plug our ears and grimace; the way she’d get rosy cheeks as she drank wine & flirted with our waiters at restaurants; the way she’d pop peppermints in her mouth and suck on them until their sugar coated her throat, and then she’d begin lovingly interrogating you about life.

and that is why i’m confident that Gram Ellie, in all of her Glory and newness, would’ve declared yesterday a good day to party in Heaven.

we were all praying for Beth’s healing and a fresh start here on this earth, with new health and a new vigor for life.

just like i prayed healing for my friend’s little brother, Julius, in Bukembe, Kenya two summers ago, i was instead quickly shocked to learn of his sudden death. i sat at his funeral, unable to dance or sing with his African family, confused and broken by it all.

but i’m beginning to learn God answers us in His own way. He heals, but it may not look like our boxed-in idea of healing. it may instead look like new life, in a new body, with no more tears or pain ever again, and it may come abruptly, in ways we may never fully understand.

He is faithful, and He heard my prayer yesterday morning, the same prayer I’ve been praying for months now:
“heal her, Jesus, and minister to her heart in sweet, new ways from her hospital bed. show her your mercies are new each morning, and remind her that you haven’t left or forsaken her.”

So He did.

He called Beth Home, for the most precious reunion with her sweet mama & Gram Ellie, and to party like the rockstars they each are in their own ways.

i will miss her deeply, and my heart is still reeling.
but i now understand the ridiculous beauty of yesterday’s sky and sunset as i was driving home from Georgia.
it was the three of them, painting and carrying on, splashing wine & popping peppermints, and sharing it with the rest of us.

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i desperately want to teleport myself to Wyoming to offer my hugs and songs and tears, to pray over the home they all once shared. i want to open the cabinet above their stove, pull out aunt Tricia’s old recipe book, and cook meals for days in her old apron. i want to sit and play the banjo and harmonica with her dad and brother, and know that i know that i know Beth hears us, sees us, and is dancing as she sees life through a new Lens, having defeated death because Jesus did first.

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for fighting with God.

Do you ever have those days where you feel like you are living outside of yourself?

You know, when it’s as if you have some super-natural power to peer into all of your nooks and crannies and wonder how  you’ve been operating this way for this long?  It feels like the crevices of your heart need their filter changed in order to trap and keep out all of the impurities, but you stand back, spectating as particles are somehow making their way through to your soul, and you want to nudge a passerby and exclaim, “are you seeing this shit?!”

Sometimes life can look a lot like hot apple cider, and new friends, and dance parties, and deep heart talks on long road trips across our beautiful country.  As a matter of fact, that’s what my life has looked like lately.  God recently blessed me with the most beautiful autumn in the mountains of West Virginia and North Carolina as I traveled for work, and as an autumn enthusiast, I couldn’t be more thankful.

But other times, life can look a lot like terminal illness and utter disappointments, and having to forfeit things we were SO looking forward to and living in fear, and financial hardships and really lingering, painful heartaches;  you know, the true muck & mire that is honestly just a part of life.

Some of my new friends, who also happen to be writers, have been really honest about life lately.  They’ve written about things like how finding your significant other is sometimes really ugly and difficult and anything but surefire.  They’ve addressed the reality that our lives have gotten so entangled in Pinterest-inspired homes and parties, and fluffy Instagram impressions that we try to make one another believe in, that we’ve forgotten to be real and take in the glimmering moments God offers us so often.

I know I’m guilty of that, and quite honestly, I’ve become cynical and hardened toward the mere thought of relationships.

But through their transparency in writing about some of these more difficult, every day moments and how life is rarely as it seems, I’ve been deeply encouraged to be really real with myself, and even more real with God.

I’ve been trying to stifle the things I thought were so petty for a while now.
These are things I was sure I had gotten over, or didn’t really care much about, or was too prideful to admit that I cared about.

Boy, does the enemy have a way of shutting us up and making us believe we’re fine, when we’re really a volcano about to erupt.

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It was Saturday night, and I was having some alone time.  Sure enough, as soon as I quietly let a few, slivered words out, what followed seemed to seep out slowly at first, until I began spewing tears and snot all over my favorite blanket, and flailing my arms dramatically all over the five foot radius around me while chucking books across the room.

I love books.  Books are a friend.  I don’t normally chuck books.

Nonetheless, I had a knock-down, drag-out screaming match with God, and as my cries spilled out, I couldn’t help but realize I was in such a safe place.  I could feel His strength, and it was strong enough to handle me.

It was like the more I cried and confessed my anger, bitterness, confusion, and defeat, the more I was greeted with open arms.  I could feel Him nodding and patting my back, like any good parent would do to their hurting child who was vomiting everywhere, reassuring them that it’s okay–to just let it out.

And He wasn’t even plugging His nose, or getting queasy at my mess;  firm and steadfast, He took it.

By the time it was all over, I was exasperated and out of breath.

It felt like days had passed.
But I could hardly believe the freedom that reigned in that place.

The Holy Spirit was ushered in swiftly through my cries, and I felt like I had all of the minions in the world holding my hair back, giving me the words when I thought I’d used them all up.  He was such a helper in beckoning me to let go.

I sat for a moment, stunned at what had just gone down.

Now, I’m not necessarily suggesting you practice doing this hot-mess ritual in the same way I did.
And yet that’s exactly what I’m suggesting.

Ask God if there are things that have been pent up and needing to be released.

Because often times we’re not even aware of these until the volcano is doing its thing, violently.
Often times, we believe the lie that we’re supposed to bind up our mess in the cutest paper packaging and tie it up with bows so the world can’t guess what’s really underneath.

Stop it.
Don’t feel the need to ask permission to let it out.
Just do it.

It may not be pretty.
You may not even feel better right away.
But I whole-heartedly believe it’s what needed to happen for me to be sitting where I am now, confronting my broken parts and free.
And I believe the same for you.

What are the things you need to fight with God about?
What is keeping you from believing He is able to handle your mess?